Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dems Need Populist Pitch

Give the Republicans this: They did a much better job of focusing the rage of the American electorate than Democrats did. Republicans have succeeded in their strategy of blocking President Obama at every turn, and then blaming him for not accomplishing his goals.

The conspiracy started on the night of Obama’s inauguration, Jan. 20, 2009, when 15 GOP leaders met in the upscale Caucus Rooom in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Republican strategist Frank Luntz. They agreed to obstruct the new President, regardless of the impact on the nation, in the hope that gridlock would tarnish Obama and sabotage his re-election.

Despite the precarious condition of the nation’s economy in the first two years, Republicans opposed Obama on the stimulus; they opposed him on rescuing General Motors and Chrysler; they opposed him on developing a national health reform bill, even though it was based on a Republican proposal; they opposed Obama on reforming Wall Street. And the obstruction worked! Even as the economy began to stabilize, Republicans complained that the economy wasn’t improving fast enough, despite their almost unanimous opposition to the measures designed to save jobs and stimulate business, and they won control of the House in 2010.

Since then the Republican House has blocked virtually every Obama initiative, but the economy has continued to improve from the stimulus that Democrats passed during the first two years of his term, and Obama managed to win re-election in 2012. His approval rating has dropped to the low-to-mid 40s in the process, about the same as the Democrats, who had 42.2% approval going into the midterm election, but Republicans have become even more unpopular, with a 36.2% favorable rating going into the election. That makes the Republican sales job in this election all the more remarkable.

Loss of the Senate is more damaging to the lame duck president, because the Senate must approve judicial nominees and new members of the Obama administrative team. Every two-term president since Dwight Eisenhower has had to deal with a Senate in opposition hands. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton both lost the Senate in their second year as president and never got it back. Richard Nixon never had a Republican Senate and didn’t make it to his sixth year before he was forced to resign for his perfidy. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both lost the Senate in their sixth years, as Obama has, but it probably is fair to say that the Senate has never been so polarized along partisan lines in the past century.

Among the most disappointing Senate losses was in Iowa, where Rep. Bruce Braley (D), a four-term congressman and chair of the House Populist Caucus, entered the race favored to win the seat Sen. Tom Harkin (D) was giving up, but he ran a flawed campaign and was virtually unseen in Western Iowa, which re-elected Rep. Steve King (R) but has a history of supporting populist Democrats, including Harkin. State Sen. Jodi Ernst (R) won the race by 8.5 points with not much more to recommend her than her experience castrating hogs. NBC News exit polls showed that Braley got only 34% of the vote in rural Western Iowa. Statewide, he carried cities over 50,000 population, with 55% of the vote, but lost suburbs 58-40 percent and rural voters 60-38 percent. He virtually broke even with Ernst among families with under $50,000 income, nominally leading 49-48 percent. Those are the people who should gain from “Obamacare” expansion of Medicaid and subsidies for health insurance for the working poor and middle-class families.

Democrats should not overreact to the loss of the Senate majority and the 14-seat Republican gain in the House. Republicans won’t have a veto-proof majority in either chamber and after a couple years with no excuses for the Republican Congress not passing the crazy legislative initiatives that appeal to the GOP’s right-wing base, voters should be looking forward to kicking Republicans out of power. But it would help if the Democrats offered a more appealing choice.

Democrats also must do better in appealing to rural white voters if they want to reverse their fortunes for 2016. Democrats ought to be able to make the case that they are the better choice for the working class, not with appeals to social issues but with the populist pitch that Republican priorities are to benefit the rich and giant corporations at the expense of the middle class and mom-and-pop businesses in small towns and big cities. It would help if the Obama administration would send a few banksters to jail.

Texas Democrats hoped that former organizers for Barack Obama, operating as Battleground Texas, would register voters and get out the vote in growing minority communities, as they did in competitive states such as Colorado, Florida and Nevada in 2012, but their efforts were not the game changer Dems had hoped for.

In the race for governor, Wendy Davis (D), a state senator from Fort Worth who gained fame leading a filibuster against a bill severely restricting abortion services in Texas, hoped that women would carry her to victory, but Republican nominee Greg Abbott, the state’s attorney general, actually won 54% of the female vote en route to a 20-point victory margin over Davis. NBC News exit polls showed Davis got 49% of voters under 44, narrowly beating Abbott in that age group, but only 14% of that young electorate were 18 to 29 and 27% were 30 to 44. Among voters 45-64, which was 41% of the electorate, Abbott beat Davis 67-32 percent.

In Texas, fully 56% of the population is non-white, and Democrats hope a new generation of Latino voters will restore them to power, but the Nov. 4 electorate was still 66% white and Abbott carried them 72-25 percent. Blacks (12% of the population as well as the electorate) voted 92% for Davis but Latinos (38% of the population but only 17% of the electorate), voted 55% for Davis. Republicans blanketed Latino South Texas with ads emphasizing Davis’ support for abortion “on demand,” as well as running ads of Abbott’s Latina mother-in-law saying what a nice guy he is — and Davis failed to make a case for how a Democratic governor would make a difference in their lives. (Texas Latinos had voted 70% for President Obama in 2012 when Mitt Romney won the state by 16 points.)

Obama Should Go For Broke

Progressives should be wary of President Obama’s interest in reaching centrist deals with Republican House and Senate leaders. The day after the election, Obama said he would be willing to work with Republicans if they are interested in infrastructure projects or other measures that will create jobs that pay well — they have resisted such projects so far. He also suggested he would be open to corporate tax reforms that close loopholes, while Republicans insist on tax breaks. He also is willing to work with Republicans on immigration reform, but we saw what happened to the bipartisan deal the Senate passed in 2013. House Speaker John Boehner, intimidated by the white supremacist wing of the GOP, has refused to allow the House to take up the bill.

Of course, Latino voters were upset that Democrats had failed to enact the immigration reforms, possibly depressing their turnout Nov. 4. That may have been fatal to Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s re-election hopes. Democrats will need those votes in 2016.

The election results have only emboldened the white supremacist wing of the GOP, so Obama might as well go ahead an implement as many immigration reforms and regulations to address climate change as he can by executive order and dare the GOP to do something about it.

The rabid Republican base will settle for nothing less than impeachment on trumped-up charges. Obama should welcome that overreach. The House can impeach with a simple majority — and the Republican caucus has a bunch of simpletons who are rarin’ to go with that radical remedy — but removal from office requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate, and Democrats should be able to muster the 34 votes to preserve the incumbent and expose the charlatans running the partisan process. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2014
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